Frequently-asked questions about the rules of petanque

When you’re looking for an answer to a question—
— FIRST find out if the answer is already available on the web.

For frequently-asked questions about the rules of petanque—
— See our page of FAQs.
— See our posts tagged as FAQs.

For “umpire questions”—
— Search our posts for Article 35.
— Search our posts for collective (penalty/ yellow card/ orange card).

Search our pages and posts for any term.

 

If you still can’t find an answer to your question, you can—
— post your question on Facebook Petanque Q&A forum
— post your question on Facebook “Ask the Umpire” forum

 


Is a wooden sideboard a throwing obstacle?

updated 2022-06-21

Players sometimes ask— Is a wooden sideboard an obstacle? What they mean is— If the circle is less than a meter from a sideboard, should we move it (the circle) away from the sideboard?

The question comes up because there is a concern that if the circle is too close to a wooden sideboard, a squat pointer or a player in a wheelchair might hit a hand on the sideboard when throwing.

On “Ask the Umpire” Mike Pegg has given different anwers to this question at different times. First he ruled that a sideboard is not an obstacle— a concerned squat pointer must stand, not squat, when pointing. Later he stated that a sideboard higher than 20cm is an obstacle because “at this height or higher it may impede a player.” Still later he stated that a board of 25cm is an obstacle. (At this point it was clear that he was just making up rules as he went along.) Finally (as of January 2021), his position seems to be that— As a general rule, a player crouching or standing in the circle must be able to swing their arm backwards without touching anything. If they cannot, then the item preventing this action would be considered an obstacle.

The problem here is that the FIPJP rules never define the word “obstacle”, so it’s an open question whether any particular thing (such as a sideboard) is a throwing obstacle. So we need to begin by defining “throwing obstacle”. I propose this— a throwing obstacle is something that might prevent a player from throwing with his normal throwing form, or something that might cause injury to a player if he plays with his normal throwing form.

We cannot specify an exact height (in centimeters) at which a wooden sideboard becomes a throwing obstacle. The notion of an “obstacle” just doesn’t work that way. The operational concept here is not height or centimeters. It is at least interference, if not outright harm and danger.

In normal circumstances a wooden sideboard is not considered an obstacle— it doesn’t interfere with a player’s normal throwing form and it poses no danger to a player as he stands in the circle and throws a boule. But in some situations it might prevent a player from throwing with his normal throwing form, or it might cause injury to a player if he plays with his normal throwing form. In those situation, a wooden sideboard should be considered an obstacle, and the circle should be moved away from it.

So the answer to the question is:

Normally a wooden sideboard is not considered to be a throwing obstacle, but in some cases it is.

Moving the circle away from a throwing obstacle is something that should be done before the jack is thrown. That means that if one of your team’s players is a squat pointer, or plays from a wheelchair, and you’re concerned about the wooden surround, don’t hesitate— SPEAK UP! Don’t wait until after the jack has been thrown to voice your concerns, because by then it is too late.

See also our post on What is an obstacle?

What is an obstacle?

revised 2022-03-18

This post has been updated to reflect the 2020 rules revisions. The 2020 rules about placing the circle and jack are discussed HERE.


The FIPJP rules use many terms without defining them. The worst offender in this regard is the word “obstacle”. “What is an obstacle?” is probably the most-frequently-asked question about the rules. So… What is an obstacle?

In the FIPJP rules, “obstacle” is not a technical term. It is an ordinary word that means, roughly, “something that interferes with the normal course of some activity or process.” The relevant activity or process must be inferred from the context. The context differs from rule to rule.

In most places in the rules, the word “obstacle” simply means “something”. In Article 19, an “obstacle” is something that causes a boule to bounce back in-bounds. In Article 25, an “obstacle” is something that gets in the way of measurement.

Article 10 says that a player may not pick up or push down an “obstacle” on the terrain. This poor choice of words has led many players to use the word “obstacle” when they should say “feature of the terrain”. The next time you visit Ask the Umpire and see a question that ends with the words “or is it simply an obstacle?” you can be sure that what the questioner meant was “or is it simply a feature of the terrain?”

As I’ve said, in most places in the rules, the word “obstacle” simply means “something”. There are, however, two cases where this is not true— two kinds of obstacles that require special discussion. They are throwing obstacles (obstacles around the circle) and pointing obstacles (obstacles around the jack).



THROWING OBSTACLES — obstacles around the circle

Article 6 (on placing the circle) and Article 7 (on throwing the jack) say that no “obstacle” can be closer than 1 meter from the circle. This rule is designed to insure that there is an obstacle-free zone around the circle, so that it is possible for a player to throw a boule with a normal throwing form, and do it safely. So a good definition of a throwing obstacle is—

  • a feature of the playing area
  • that is less than 1 meter from the circle
  • and might interfere with a player’s normal throwing form.

The most common kind of throwing obstacle are objects that might interfere with a player’s backswing. Trees, telephone poles, trash receptacles, walls, and crowd-control barriers count as throwing obstacles if they are too close to the circle. The category of “throwing obstacles” also includes features of the terrain that might interfere with a player’s footing. A patch of ground that is too irregular for a player to stand with a solid footing, a patch of slippery mud, a puddle of rainwater— all of these count as throwing obstacles.

Circles and jacks in other games are not technically “obstacles”, but the rules do specify that the circle must be placed at least 1.5m from a circle or a jack in another game.


POINTING OBSTACLES — obstacles around the jack

Article 7 says that after the jack has been thrown or placed, no “obstacle” can be closer than 50cm from the jack. This rule is designed to insure that there is an obstacle-free zone around the jack, so that it is physically possible for a player to point a boule close to the jack. So a good definition of a pointing obstacle is—

  • a feature of the playing area
  • that is less than 50cm from the jack
  • and prevents a boule from occupying the space that it occupies (because no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time).

Typical examples of pointing obstacles include— a tree or tree root; a telephone pole or lamp-post; a fire hydrant; a wall, a concrete curb or sidewalk. The notion of a pointing obstacle is vague, so there may be objects or terrain conditions (a large clump of pampas grass? a large rock? a patch of muddy ground?) about which players and/or the umpire need to make an ad hoc decision— Shall we consider it a pointing obstacle?

According to the 2020 FIPJP rules, the end dead-ball lines of an oblong terrain are in effect pointing obstacles, so a thrown or placed jack must be at least 50cm from any end (but not side) dead-ball line.

Circles and jacks in other games are not technically “obstacles”, but the rules do specify that the (thrown or placed) jack must be at least 1.5m from a circle or a jack in another game.


For more about the concept of an obstacle-free zone, see our post on A different way to think about obstacles.



There are a number of frequently-asked questions (FAQs) about obstacles.

Is a wooden surround a throwing obstacle? It might interfere with the backswing of a squat pointer.
Over the last few years, international umpire Mike Pegg has changed his position on this question. At one time he held that a wooden surround is not a throwing obstacle, because a squat pointer can always stand, rather than squat, when pointing. Then he held that that a surround that is higher than 25cm is a throwing obstacle because “at this height or higher it may impede a player”. As of January 2021 his position seems to be that— As a general rule, a player crouching or standing in the circle must be able to swing their arm backwards without touching anything. If they cannot, then the item preventing this action would be considered an obstacle.

I agree. Players always should be able to use their normal throwing form, and be able to do so in safety. Normally a wooden surround is not considered to be a throwing obstacle, but if a squat pointer expresses concerns when the circle is less than a meter from a wooden surround, the surround should be considered to be a throwing obstacle and the circle should be moved away from it. See our post on Is a wooden sideboard a throwing obstacle?

Is a wooden surround a pointing obstacle?
Generally speaking, a wooden surround is not considered to be a pointing obstacle. There are two exceptions to that general rule. A wooden surround is considered to be a pointing obstacle (1) if the terrain has no boundary strings, or (2) if the wooden surround is less than 8cm outside of a dead-ball line. Why these two exceptions? Why 8cm? See our post on a different way to think about obstacles.

Are trees considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
YES. A tree trunk is both a throwing obstacle and a pointing obstacle.

Are tree roots considered to be throwing or pointing obstacles?
Generally speaking: NO. They are considered to be features of the terrain, like rocks. There is no clear-cut rule however— in some cases it would be reasonable for the two teams to agree to consider a really large root a pointing obstacle.

Article 19 says that a boule is dead if it goes out-of-bounds, hits an “obstacle”, and bounces back onto the terrain. Are things above the ground “obstacles”? If a thrown (or hit) boule or jack hits something above the terrain, is it dead?
The answer is NO, it is not dead. The issue here has nothing to do with what counts as being an obstacle. It is about what counts as being out-of-bounds. The REAL question here is— “Are objects above the terrain out-of-bounds?” And to that question the answer is NO.

Think of the dead-ball lines as invisible walls that the dead-ball lines on the ground project up into the sky. If a ball stays inside those invisible walls— if it stays directly above the terrain— it stays in-bounds. That means that if a boule or a jack hits an overhanging tree branch, a low-hanging light fixture, or a boulodrome ceiling, and drops down onto the terrain without going through one of those invisible walls, it is still alive. The photograph (below) shows an outdoor boulodrome in Seaside, Florida. Note the low-hanging light fixtures. Most of the light fixtures are in-bounds and are therefore normal features of the terrain, just as rocks on the terrain are normal features of the terrain. If a boule hits one of those light fixtures and drops onto the terrain, the light fixture may be damaged but the boule will still be alive.

seaside_terrain_with_overhead_lights

Is there really any difference between a throwing obstacle and a pointing obstacle? Aren’t they all just “obstacles”?
Some things (e.g. a wall) can be an obstacle to both throwing and pointing, but that’s not true of all obstacles. In this photograph the jack is located less than half a meter from a large tree root. The root is big enough to constitute a pointing obstacle but not big enough to constitute a throwing obstacle. (Boules have been placed on the ground to give a sense of scale.)

In this photograph (below) the jack is located more than half a meter from the trunk of a mesquite tree, so the tree trunk isn’t a pointing obstacle. But at the start of the next mene the low branch, which is only about 4 feet above the jack, would make it impossible for a player to stand upright in a circle placed around the jack. That makes the tree branch a throwing obstacle— at the start of the next mene the circle must be moved a meter away from the branch.

Here is a similar situation. The rail fence isn’t a pointing obstacle; it is possible to point to within half a meter of the jack in any direction. But at the start of the next mene it will be a throwing obstacle— the circle must be moved a meter away from the fence.
petanque_throwing_obstacle_rail_fence

Where to stand when you’re not throwing

[updated: 2020-10-10]
Players sometimes wonder where they should stand (or are permitted to stand) when a member of their own team is throwing, and when a member of the opposing team is throwing. The answer is in Article 17 (“Behavior of players and spectators during a game”). Article 17 stipulates three conditions. (In this quotation I label them a, b, and c.) While a player is preparing to throw his boule –

The opponents must stand (a) beyond the jack or behind the player and, (b) in both cases, to one side of the line of play and (c) at least 2 meters from one or the other [the jack or the player]. Only [the player’s] teammates may stand between the jack and the throwing circle.

So when a member of your own team is throwing, you are allowed to stand anywhere. You may even, if you wish, stand in the head pointing to the donnée with your toe.

The opponents, on the other hand, are much more restricted. The “line of play” [sens du jeu] is an imaginary line running through the circle and the jack. Article 17 says that the opponents are required to stay to one side or the other of the line of play. It doesn’t specify how far from the line of play, but French and Dutch national federations agree that the distance should be at least one meter. The result is this diagram, in which the opponents must stand behind the circle (in the areas marked “A”) or beyond the jack (in the areas marked “B”), at least two meters from the circle and the jack, and at least one meter to the side of the line of play.
where to stand when playing petanque
In tournaments, the convention is for opponents always to stand beyond the jack in the “B” areas. There are potential problems with this practice. A shot boule can easily (and rapidly) fly sideways and hit the foot of a player standing in one of the “B” areas. When a player is shooting, therefore, the other players are wise to stand well away from the head. They should (if possible) stand outside the dead-ball line. Then, if a boule is shot and suddenly flies sideways, it will have gone out-of-bounds and be dead before hitting a player’s foot.


Boules thrown out of turn

extensively revised 2022-07-13
A boule played out of turn is a boule that was played when a team mistakenly believed that it was their turn to play. Consider the following situation.

Team A has the point. Bob, on Team B, plays a boule (B1). B1 gains the point, but Bob doesn’t realize that. Without leaving the circle, Bob judges that he has not gained the point, so throws a second boule (B2). Again, judging incorrectly that he has not gained the point, Bob throws his third boule (B3). Both teams then walk to the head to assess the situation. What they discover is that Bob had gained the point with B1. That means that B2 and B3 were thrown “out of turn”.

examining_the_head
At this point, the question is of course— What do we do now? A variety of answers have been proposed.


1. The boule was thrown “contrary to the rules”

There is no FIPJP rule that specifically covers boules thrown out-of-turn. What players and umpires usually come up with is that the boules were thrown “contrary to the rules”. They reason thus—

  1. Article 16 says that “it is the team that does not hold the point that plays.”
  2. Since Bob WAS holding the point when he played boules B2 and B3, he broke the rule in Article 16.
  3. Since Bob broke a rule when he played boules B2 and B3, B2 and B3 must have been “played contrary to the rules”.
  4. Article 24 contains a rule about what to do when a boule is played contrary to the rules. Therefore, the rule in Article 24 is what we should use.

Article 24 says that when we discover that a boule has been played contrary to the rules, we should apply an “advantage rule”.

  1. The offended team may choose to leave everything where it is, and carry on with the game. Or—
     
  2. The offended team may choose to declare each boule that was thrown out-of-turn to be dead, and to put every ball that was illegally moved back in its original location, if its original location was marked.

Note that the offended team— not the umpire— decides what to do with a boule thrown out-of-turn. Note also that a boule thrown out-of-turn is not automatically dead— the offended team can choose to declare it dead, but they can also choose to leave it where it is.

The bottom line for Bob is that Team A is probably going to choose the second option, and declare B2 and B3 to be dead.

The rule is straight-forward, but it can be emotionally unsatisfying, especially when several boules are involved. When Team B throws two or three boules out-of-turn, players begin to wonder— Where was Team A when Team B was throwing all of these illegal boules? Surely Team A must have realized that Team B had the point! Shouldn’t they have informed Team B? Isn’t Team A at least partly at fault, for knowing that Team B had the point, but sitting around and watching Team A throw all of these illegal boules and saying nothing?

These suspicions are almost always groundless. In cases like this, as often as not the players on Team A said nothing because they didn’t have enough time to carefully assess the situation, or they really did not realize (or were not sure about) who had the point. Still, we often have a gut-level feeling that Team A must somehow share the guilt, and it is unfair or harsh to punish Team B so severely. This has prompted proposals for other ways of dealing with multiple boules thrown out-of-turn.


2. The boule was NOT thrown “contrary to the rules”

In 2008 Petanque New Zealand (PNZ) published rules interpretations saying that a boule thrown out of turn should not be considered to have been thrown contrary to the rules. In 2012 John Degueldre, Director of Umpiring for Petanque New Zealand, followed up by issuing the following ruling.

Boules played out of turn are not considered as an infringement to the rules [i.e. as "boules thrown contrary to the rules"] but indeed as a mistake. Players making such a mistake penalise themselves by reducing or losing the boule advantage. In conclusion, players do not incur any penalty, and boule(s) are valid and stay in place. But it is still the player or team not holding the point that must play the next boule.

The practical effect of this interpretation is that, after it is discovered that one or more boules have been thrown out-of-turn, everything is left where it is, and the game carries on.

It’s true that playing a boule out-of-turn is usually a mistake— often a newbie mistake, sometimes a result of lazy playing— and so shouldn’t be treated too harshly. But a blanket no-fault policy may be excessively tolerant. Even a mistakenly-thrown boule can have consequences. If you point a boule right in front of the jack, or right in front of a boule that I was planning to shoot, you’ve changed the situation on the ground in your favor. Saying “Oops, my mistake,” doesn’t change the fact that your boule has just created a real problem for me. My sense of fairness tells me that your throw really should be undone.

I think that PNZ came to the same conclusion. As of the 2021 version of its rules, it now interprets Article 24 in the standard FIPJP way (position #1).


3. Only the LAST boule was thrown “contrary to the rules”

The NJBB (the Dutch national petanque federation) agrees that a boule thrown out-of-turn has been thrown contrary to the rules, but its rules interpretation guidelines specify an unusual way of applying Article 24.

Every team has a duty to investigate and must ensure that a player who is about to play belongs to the team team whose turn it really is to play. … If the opposing team has had the opportunity to object and has not removed from play the boule that was thrown contrary to the rules, one may assume that they have agreed to leave the boule(s) in question. Thus, the rule does not automatically apply retroactively if the error is discovered at a later time.

The NJBB position is that when Team A didn’t object to Bob throwing B2, Team A must have implicitly (and without telling anyone) invoked Article 24’s advantage rule, and must (without telling anyone) have chosen the first option— to leave everything untouched. After it is discovered that B3 was thrown out-of-turn, then Team A may explicitly invoke Article 24’s advantage rule and choose to disqualify B3. But it can do nothing about B2 because it has already implicitly agreed not to disqualify B2.

In effect, the NJBB rule is that when it is discovered that Team B has thrown multiple boules out-of-turn, Team A can disqualify only the last one.

This is obviously an attempt to find a minimally punitive way to handle multiple boules thrown out-of-turn. And I think that it would be acceptable for the NJBB simply and arbitrarily to rule that when one team throws multiple boules out-of-turn, the other team can disqualify only the last one. (Most of the rules of most games are completely arbitrary.) But the NJBB’s feeble attempt to rationalize its ruling is absurd. Not realizing that a boule has been thrown out-of-turn is not the same thing as (a) realizing that a boule has been thrown out-of-turn, then (b) making a conscious choice to choose one, rather than the other, of the two options offered by Article 24’s advantage rule, and then (c) concealing that recognition and that decision from the opposing team.

The bottom line

The bottom line, I think, is that while the standard FIPJP position (position #1) can sometimes leave us emotionally dissatisfied, there is no other position that is compatible with the current FIPJP rules and obviously better.

The lesson for all of us is therefore—

You can’t count on the opposing team always to point out that you have, or might have gained the point. The responsibility for claiming the point is yours, and you can’t expect your opponents to do your job for you.

Before you play a boule, always make sure that you know where the point lies, and that it really is your team’s turn to play. Or be prepared to deal with the consequences.


Why boules thrown out-of-turn cause so much confusion

It is difficult to discuss boules thrown out-of-turn, because players commonly believe (incorrectly) that a boule thrown out-of-turn is automatically dead, or that an umpire will automatically rule the boule to be dead. They believe this because of the extremely confusing way that Article 24 is written. First Article 24 says “any boule thrown contrary to the rules is dead.” Then it says “Oh wait, I take it back. The boule isn’t dead; the offended team gets to apply an advantage rule.” The FIPJP should be ashamed of itself for the way that Article 24 is written.

Dealing with a forgotten boule

Players and umpires sometimes invoke the concept of a boule thrown out-of-turn when dealing with a forgotten boule. That’s a mistake. See our post on Dealing with a forgotten boule.


Extensive revision of this post

This post was extensively revised on July 13, 2022 in response to comments on the first version by Michael, Bruce Whitehill, and Niek. Michael and Bruce pointed out the difficulties in the 2012 PNZ position, and especially challenged the statement (now removed) that “A boule thrown out-of-turn hurts the team that threw it and does no harm to the opposing team.” Niek called my attention to the NJBB’s unusual interpretation of Article 24. My thanks go out to all of them for their help in making this post better.


“Stepping back” to move the circle

[Revised 2021-04-18. The 2020 revision of the FIPJP rules reduced the minimum required distance of the thrown jack from an end dead-ball line from 1m to 0.5m. This reduced the maximum distance that you can back away from an end dead-ball line from 11m to 10.5m.]

In this post we look at the Stepping Back Rule in Article 7 and answer frequently-asked questions about it.

As we discuss the rule, we need to remember the context. The FIPJP rules are designed for FIPJP-sanctioned competitions. These competitions are typically played on rectangular lanes that are 4m wide and 15m long. Menes (ends, rounds) are played back-and-forth on these rectangular lanes, first in one direction and then in the other direction. [Note that in this essay, I use the word “former” to mean “in the previous mene”.]

Because of the limited length of the lanes, after placing the circle around the former location of the jack, players sometimes find that they can’t throw the jack to the maximum permitted distance (10m) because the circle is too close to one of the lane’s end boundary lines. The Stepping Back Rule is designed to deal with such situations.

Suppose that at the start of the first mene, the circle is placed close to the west end of the lane and the jack is thrown so that it lands exactly in the center of the lane. The lane is 15m long, so the jack is about 7.5m from each end line.

Team A wins the first mene, so it starts the second mene by placing the circle around the former location of the jack. The circle is now in the exact center of the lane.

The circle has a radius of 25cm, so one edge of the circle is 7.25 meters from the western end of the lane, and the other edge is 7.25 meters from the eastern end of the lane. In this situation, team A might like to throw the jack to 10 meters, but they cannot. Both the western and eastern ends of the lane are too close.

This is where the Stepping Back Rule comes in. Article 7 (which I’ve slightly reformatted) says—

If [and only if] there is no direction in which the jack can be thrown to the maximum distance… the player may step back, in line with the previous mene’s line of play, but without going beyond the maximum distance allowed for the throwing of the jack.

Note the “if and only if” clause. The Stepping Back Rule can be applied only if there is no direction in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10m. If there is any direction in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10m, the Stepping Back Rule cannot be used.

During a mene, the line of play is an imaginary line drawn from the circle through the jack. The former line of play is a line drawn through the circle’s current location and the circle’s former location, continuing on indefinitely in both directions. There is a place where this line crosses the end dead-ball line behind the circle’s former location— let’s call that place Q. So the player, facing the circle’s former location, steps backward along the former the line of play. While he’s stepping back, he’s looking at Q and keeping track of his distance from Q.

At any point he can stop or he can keep backing up, but if he reaches a point where he is 10.5 meters from Q, he is not allowed to back up any farther; he must stop and place the circle on the ground. Why 10.5 meters? That’s because a thrown jack must be at least half a meter (50cm) from any dead-ball line. Half a meter plus 10 meters (“the maximum distance allowed for the throwing of the jack”) gives a distance of 10.5 meters from Q. See diagram 4.

Note that invoking the Stepping Back Rule is completely optional— stepping back is permitted, but it is not required. A team doesn’t have to step back with the circle if they don’t want to. They can also move the circle only part of the maximum-allowed distance— they don’t have to move the circle the entire distance that is permitted.

Here are some frequently-asked questions about the Stepping Back Rule.

(Q1) If the former line of play crosses the lane at an angle, could a player stepping back be forced across the lane’s side boundary?

NO. You can’t place the circle outside of the lane. When “stepping back”, a player should back away from the circle’s former location (along path A in diagram 5) as long as it is possible to do so without crossing the lane boundary. Then the player should back away along the inside of the lane boundary line (along path B).

Remember that the player is backing away from the circle’s former location, but the location where he must stop is determined by his distance from Q.

(Q2) We’re playing on a big playing area. There are one or two directions in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters, but we don’t like any of them. We’d prefer to play back in the direction we just came from. But in that direction there is not enough room to throw the jack to 10 meters. Can we play in that direction, and invoke the Stepping Back Rule to move the circle back until we can play to 10m in that direction?

NO. You can play in any direction that you like, but since there are several directions in which you can throw the jack to 10 meters, you may not invoke the Stepping Back Rule. If there is any direction in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10m, the Stepping Back Rule cannot be used.

(Q3) Team A steps the circle back so that it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters. Then they throw the jack to a distance of only 8m from the circle. Is that allowed?

A: YES, that it is perfectly legal. Team A can throw the jack wherever they wish. Article 7 gives a rule for moving the circle, but it says nothing about where the jack may or may not be thrown after the circle is moved.

(Q4) After Team A is unsuccessful in throwing the jack, Team B steps the circle back so that it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters. Then they place the jack only 8m from the circle! Is that allowed?

A: YES, that it is perfectly legal. Team B can place the jack wherever they wish. See the previous answer.

(Q5) The rules assume that the lane has the shape of a rectangle, with some sides (the “sides”) being longer than others (the “ends”). The thrown jack must be at least 50cm from an end line, but it may actually touch a side line. Our terrain is a square— it has no “ends” or “sides”. What should we do?

A: The FIPJP rules assume that in stepping back along the former line of play, you are stepping back from an end line. You should assume the same. Treat whatever boundary line you are stepping back from as an end line.

(Q6) Team A’s throw of the jack is not successful, so it turns the jack over to team B. Can Team B move the circle before placing the jack by hand? Does it make any difference whether or not team A moved the circle before they threw the jack?

YES, team B can move the circle before placing the jack. NO, it doesn’t make any difference. Team B can move the circle whether or not team A had previously moved the circle.

(Q7) If team A moves the circle and then loses the jack, can team B move the circle closer to where it was before it was “stepped back” by team A?

NO. That wouldn’t be “stepping back”. As noted in the FPUSA Official Rules Interpretations for Umpires (November 2015, Question 15), part of the purpose of the Stepping Back Rule is “to expedite play by increasing the chance that a valid jack might be thrown”. Allowing a team to move the circle CLOSER to its original location would have the opposite of the desired effect— it would decrease the chance that a valid jack is thrown.

The next two questions assume that the previous mene was played west-to-east. Team A has dropped the circle over the jack’s former location, and the situation in diagram 2 is now in effect.

(Q8) Can team A leave the circle where it is, and continue to play in the same direction, toward the east?

YES. It is legal to continue playing in the same direction, although it may not be practical. Note that the circle is only 7.25 meters from the eastern end of the lane. To continue playing toward the east, team A must throw the jack to a distance of between 6 and 6.75 meters (or a little more, if they play toward a corner). It is possible to do that, but difficult.

(Q9) Can team A step back the circle from the east dead-ball line, and then throw the jack toward the east?

NO. That would not count as stepping back along the former line of play. Remember— When moving the circle, you must be looking toward the circle’s former location and backing away from it.

Here is a diagram to help in understanding the next two questions.


A game is being played on an odd-shaped playing area— when the playing area was built, the edges of the area had to be routed around a group of trees. It’s an open terrain, not divided into lanes.

During the last mene, the circle was at location X. A freak hit knocked the jack back, very close to X. To start the next mene, John has placed the circle in its default location and is now is preparing to step back with the circle.

(Q10) Article 7 says: “If you can’t throw the jack to 10m, you can step back until you can.” As John steps back away from X, in a few steps he will get to location B. From location B, it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters (toward the center of the terrain). Does that mean that John must put the circle down at B?

A: NO. Note that “If you can’t throw the jack to 10m, you can step back until you can,” is a handy paraphrase of Article 7, but that is NOT what Article 7 actually says. Article 7 says that a player may step back along the line of play, without going beyond a certain distance from the dead-ball line. As long as John can’t throw the jack to 10m toward X, he can keep stepping back.

(Q11) Suppose that John places the circle in location A. Is he required to throw the jack back in the direction of X? Or can he throw the jack in some other direction, e.g. toward the center of the terrain?

A: Article 7 gives a rule for moving the circle, but it says nothing about where the jack may or may not be thrown after the circle is moved. John can throw the jack wherever he wishes.

POSTSCRIPT
Note that there are situations in which the circle MUST be moved. Suppose the lane is 12m long, The circle, which has been dropped over the former location of the jack, is exactly in the center of the lane. The circle must be moved in order to allow the jack to be thrown to the minimum distance of 6 meters.

Dealing with a forgotten boule

updated 2021-12-21


What do you do when one team forgets that it has an unplayed boule?

There are a lot of boules on the ground. Your team (team A) has the point and unplayed boules. You ask the opponents (Team B) if they have any more boules to play. They look around, don’t see any, and say “No, we’re out.” So your team plays a boule. Then one of the opponents says “Ooops! I made a mistake. I still have one boule left!”. … What should be done?

 
Team B had an unplayed boule. Team A gave Team B the opportunity to play next. Team B refused to do so. It makes no difference that Team B acted because of a mistake rather than a deliberate desire to cheat. For whatever reason, Team B refused to play when it was their turn to play. Team B was at fault.

The determination that Team B was at fault rests on the idea that (a) playing a boule when it is NOT your team’s turn to play, and (b) refusing to play when it IS your team’s turn to play, are flip sides of the same coin. They are both violations of the rules. Just as a boule can be played contrary to the rules, a boule can be withheld from play contrary to the rules.

When a team has an unplayed boule, and it is their turn to play, and their opponents give them the opportunity to play their boule, then if (for whatever reason) they do not play their boule, they violate the rules. More charitably, we can construe the act of refusing to play their unplayed boules as a declaration that “We’ve played all of the boules that we’re going to play.” (Compare: “We’ll take the point.”) In any event, by refusing to play when it is their turn, they forfeit the right to play any more boules. The bottom line is— a forgotten boule is dead and may not be played.

Note that the situation would be different if Team A had simply gone ahead and thrown its boule, without checking to see if Team B had any unplayed boules. In that case, Team A would not have done its due diligence, and they would have been guilty of throwing a boule out-of-turn.


How NOT to think about a forgotten boule

Before a team plays a boule, it is responsible for verifying that it is their turn to play. With that in mind, players sometimes say that in our example, Team A was at fault, and its last boule should be considered to have been “thrown out-of-turn”. If you point out that Team A had made a reasonable effort to verify that it should play next— that it had “done its due diligence” by asking Team B if they had any unplayed boules— these players will reply that that was not enough— Team A should have “counted the boules”.

This is rubbish. If your opponent tells you that he has no unplayed boules, that is enough to justify you in going ahead and playing your next boule. You are under no obligation to double-check what he says by counting the boules, or by doing anything else.

If either team is at fault for not counting boules, it is Team B, not Team A. Just as a team has a responsibility to make sure that it is their turn to play before they play, a team also has a responsibility to make sure that they have no unplayed boules before they refuse to play. It was Team B, then, that should have been counting its boules, not Team A.


The Forgotten Boule and the Boule Advantage

There is also a very pragmatic reason why a team must not be allowed to play a “forgotten” boule. It is connected to the notion of the boule advantage. Let’s look at a scenario in which a team is allowed to play a “forgotten” boule. Team A has just taken the point, leaving both teams with one unplayed boule.

  1. Team A turns to Team B and says “We have the point. It’s your turn to play.”
  2. Team B (conveniently forgetting its unplayed boule) says “We’re out of boules.”
  3. Team A says “OK” and throws its last boule. Team A now has game on the ground.
  4. Team B says “Oops. I just remembered that I still have one more boule!”
  5. The umpire agrees to let Team B throw its “forgotten” boule.
  6. Team B plays its “forgotten” boule, and with it takes the point, wins the mene, and wins the game.

Team A had the boule advantage at the beginning of this scenario, but Team B ended up throwing the last boule. How did THAT happen? By conveniently “forgetting” its unplayed boule, Team B forced Team A to throw its last boule. When the umpire allowed Team B to play its “forgotten” boule, this gave the boule advantage to Team B. In short, allowing Team B to play a “forgotten” boule allowed Team B to cheat Team A out of the boule advantage. This kind of scenario is the predictable consequence of allowing a team to throw a “forgotten” boule, which is why teams must NOT be allowed to throw forgotten boules.


What is “a boule thrown contrary to the rules”?

[updated 2021-12-25]
Players use the expression “boule thrown contrary to the rules” all the time and in a variety of contexts. But what does it really mean? And what should you do if you see one?

Problems with Article 24

The title of Article 24 is “Boules thrown contrary to the rules”.

Except for cases in which these rules provide specific and graduated penalties as outlined in article 35, any boule thrown contrary to the rules is dead and if marked, anything that it has displaced in its travel is put back in place. However, the opponent has the right to apply the advantage rule and declare it to be valid. In this case, the boule pointed or shot, is valid and anything it has displaced remains in its place.

There are two serious problems with the way that Article 24 is written. First, it should never have used the phrase “boule thrown contrary to the rules”. If a player steps on the circle while playing, those words direct our attention toward the boule when we should be thinking about the player’s foot and the circle.

Second, it should not begin by saying categorically that the boule is dead… and then a dozen words later say “Oh, it’s not really dead. The opponent can decide whether or not it is dead.” The article should have been written this way.

Article 24 – When a player breaks a rule while throwing a boule
When a player breaks a rule while throwing a boule, if the rule specifies application of the penalties in Article 35 for that kind of infraction, the umpire will apply a penalty. Otherwise, the opposing team may apply the advantage rule and choose either (a) to declare the boule to be valid and leave everything that it displaced where it is, or (b) to declare the boule to be dead and put everything that it displaced back in its original location, if the original location was marked.
 

There are two categories of “boules thrown contrary to the rules”

Note that Article 24 says that there are two types of infractions (violations of the rules) that a player can commit while throwing a boule. Let’s call them Category A and Category B infractions.

  • Category A infractions are handled by the umpire imposing penalties listed in Article 35.
     
  • Category B infractions are handled by the offended team applying an advantage rule.

What Article 24 says, basically, is that if a player breaks a rule while throwing a boule, anything that isn’t a Category A infraction is a Category B infraction.


Category A infractions

Category A infractions are listed in Articles 6 and 16.

The players’ feet must be entirely on the inside of the circle and not encroach on its perimeter and they must not leave it or be lifted completely off the ground until the thrown boule has touched the ground. No part of the body may touch the ground outside the circle.Any player not respecting this rule shall incur the penalties as provided in article 35. [Article 6]

Before throwing his/her boule, the player must remove from it any trace of mud or whatever deposit, under threat of penalties outlined in article 35. [Article 16]

For a first infraction, an umpire will typically show a yellow card and give the offending player a warning. For a second infraction, an umpire will typically show an orange card and disqualify one of the offending player’s boules.


Category B infractions

Category B is a residual category— a grab bag of unspecified ways that a player can break a rule while throwing a boule. We don’t know what kinds of things the FIPJP umpires imagined would fall into Category B when they wrote Article 24. The FIPJP rules have only ever included one example of a Category B infraction— a boule thrown from a circle other than the one from which the jack was thrown. That example was added to the rules in 2008 and then removed in 2010. Nobody knows why.

If we search the rules we can find a number of infractions that probably fall into Category B.

  1. Throwing from the wrong circle, that is: throwing from a circle that was drawn on the ground during an earlier mene and never erased.
     
  2. Throwing more boules than you’re allowed. (After playing in a doubles game, you begin playing in a triples game. You’re still holding three boules. Forgetting that you’re now allowed to play only two boules, you throw a third.)
     
  3. Throwing your last boule while holding an extra boule in your “off” hand to help with your balance. (See Article 16.)
     
  4. Throwing two or more boules simultaneously.
     
  5. Throwing a boule out of turn.
    This is the most important Category B infraction… if it is indeed a Category B infraction. There is significant debate about whether “a boule thrown out-of-turn” really should be considered “thrown contrary to the rules”. (See our post on boules thrown out of turn.)

Note that mistakenly throwing a boule that doesn’t belong to you (i.e. throwing one of your team-mates’ boules or one of the opposing team’s boules or even a dead boule) is not a case of “a boule thrown contrary to the rules.” There is a special rule (Article 23) for handling a mistakenly-thrown boule . (See our post on playing somebody else’s boule.)

If a team commits a Category B infraction, the offended team gets to apply an advantage rule. (That is, the offended team gets to make a choice about what to do next.) The offended team has two choices.

  1. Declare the offending boule to be dead. And then put anything else that was moved and whose original location was marked, back in its original location.
     
  2. Leave everything where it is and carry on with the game.


POP QUIZ

This photo shows a number of infractions as a player throws a boule. Which of them are Category A infractions? Which are Category B infractions? Which are neither?
Answers are HERE.